Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ferry and Eno - 40 years on....

Far removed from the leopardskin and bacofoil beginnings of Roxy Music in 1972, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno are now advertising luxury brands. It seems their rivalry stretches down the years in mysterious ways.
Viewed from a passing taxi in the Central district of Hong Kong this week, there, on giant billboards are the two Roxy rivals vying for our attention as they have done ever since Roxy's breakthrough. Across the road from the hotel itself, Ferry is one of the featured 'fans' in a billboard ad for the Mandarin Oriental, while a matter of yards further along, Eno is seen beseeching us to consume Dunhill's wares.
In 1972, Roxy were a publicist's dream, with their exotic costumes, slicked-back hair and distinctive musical hybrid. They played up to that other-worldliness to the extent I can vividly recall a Radio 1 'Newsbeat' report that the band's synth wizard Eno was actually from Mars. Although by his own admission he was only semi-literate in a musical sense, Eno's flamboyant costumes were the focal point for the band. Look at any photo of them in their early days and Eno is at the forefront. The picture here of them on stage in 1972 shows how the audience's attention was drawn towards Eno.
Bryan Ferry is a fan of the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
It worked to their advantage when they were trying to establish themselves, but ultimately, it threatened to steal the spotlight away from Ferry, the band's undeniable leader since he wrote and sang all the songs. In retrospect, given their phenomenal output, Eno's departure from Roxy was inevitable. It is arguable which of them has had the more lasting influence, and frankly it doesn't matter, they have both produced great work over a long and, certainly in Eno's case, varied career. Roxy Music couldn't hope to contain two such big musical egos, and over the years we have been fortunate to hear what each of them, unfettered by the other, has been able to produce. In spite of his musical limitations, Eno must have added something to the Roxy sound, because those first two albums on which he appears have a distinctive vibe. And he proved his worth in his subsequent solo career, right from the off with his first album Here Come The Warm Jets and the hit single Seven Deadly Fins. His early ambient records, the Berlin albums with David Bowie, the collaborations with Robert Fripp, David Byrne, Daniel Lanois and others are all major landmarks in recorded music. Ferry has the edge in terms of being a traditonal songwriter and live performer, as well as being the pioneer of a distinctive style with Roxy that was quite unique. He still tours and although I haven't seen him live since 2005, at that time he delivered a surprisingly rocking show, driven on by the ever-dependable Paul Thompson on drums (announced by Ferry in time-honoured fashion as 'the Great Paul Thompson') with a twin guitar line-up of Chris Spedding and Mick Green, Lucy Wilkins on violin playing the Eddie Jobson solo from Out Of The Blue note for note. It was a fantastic gig, but the most remarkable thing about it was that Mick Green, the veteran guitarist from The Pirates, having just played a blistering solo,
And a few yards along the road, Brian Eno endorses Dunhill
collapsed, just fell over, like a tall tree, guitar still strapped to him. At first we thought it must be a joke, but after a few moments road crew appeared and a couple of doctors from the audience ran down to the front. Green had suffered a heart attack, from which he recovered (he's since died). Green was dragged off-stage and Ferry gave the scene a quick glance but the show carried on without missing a beat. No mention was made of it. On with the show, eh?
So cast your mind back to that wonderful period in 1972 when Glam was the new sensation and Roxy appeared on Top Of The Pops. One of the most exciting TV music moments ever.

Virginia Plain - Top Of The Pops, 1972

Re-Make Re-Model - Royal College of Art, 1972

Ladytron - Old Grey Whistle Test, 1972

Do The Strand - OGWT, 1972

Editions of You - Montreux, 1973

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Robin Trower - crossing the Bridge of Sighs

The rock trio format produced many great bands in the 1960s and 70s, from Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience through Rory Gallagher’s bands, the early Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell and - one of my personal favourites - the Robin Trower Band.
Trower was a member of Procol Harum during their 60s heyday, but by 1970/71 he was forging a new sound and direction. His first post-Procol band, Jude evolved into the three-piece Robin Trower band and their first album Twice Removed from Yesterday established the blueprint they refined through the 1970s.
Early days of the RT band, with Reg Isidore (right)
Trower's guitar playing drew instant attention because of the similarities in tone and sheer power with Jimi Hendrix. The early comparisons with Jimi were valid to some extent. The Robin Trower sound did borrow from the master, but Trower was soon able to demonstrate that he had his own personal style that was as distinctive as Jimi’s. He was genuinely trying to forge a new direction for the rock trio and, as Charles Shaar Murray’s review of their second album Bridge of Sighs indicates, Trower was able to win people over with the sheer force of his playing.
CSM's review states: "
Trower and his sidemen seem to give the evoking of an atmosphere very high priority, which means that unless you’re prepared to sit down and listen hard, you’re going to miss the point completely. By pursuing a direction totally unlike that of any other three-piece guitar-led band, Trower may well be cutting himself off from a large number of potential listeners who are only interested in guitar pyrotechnics of the kind he is quite capable of playing if he so desires. However, what he is doing here is ultimately far more valuable."
The NME review of  'Bridge of Sighs' from 1973

"It's just a bit of a yawn," said Robin at the time, with regard to the Hendrix comparisons: "I guess it gives people something to talk about. People like to put you in a pigeonhole if they're uncertain. Maybe it makes it easier for people to accept what I'm doing, the Hendrix thing gives them something to hold on to."
Of course, the Trower sound had another key ingredient – the smooth soulful voice of bass player Jimmy Dewar who, along with drummer Reg Isidore provided the dynamic backing on the first two RT band albums. Dewar was undoubtedly one of the great British vocalists and his contribution was crucial in making their albums and live shows so memorable. This video clip shows what a silky smooth voice can really add in a rock context. It's an early version of Day Of The Eagle (from Bridge of Sighs) with different lyrics.

Isidore was muscular and frenetic - a key part of the band in the early days. But he was maybe a little too loose for Trower’s liking. Robin said at the time of the third album For Earth Below, when Bill Lordan joined, “'Reggie just started to drift a bit. I run a very tight ship”. And so in came the tall blond American Lordon, who had previously played with Sly Stone and, it was claimed (somewhat implausibly) with Jimi in the Band of Gypsies. Trower said they all knew when they got together that he was the right choice: “It was classic! He knew he was right for us before we did. He'd been into us from the time the first album came out and he's been trying to get hold of me ever since, cause he knew he was The Drummer. He phoned me up and said, 'I'm the guy you want. Don't listen to anybody else.' And he was right. He was absolutely perfect.”

My vantage point for Robin Trower at the Reading Festival in August 1975
The RTB were one of the best live bands I ever saw. And that run of albums, from Twice Removed… through Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below and Long Misty Days were constants on my record deck at the time. I saw them live a few times, notably at the Reading Festival in 1975, when they provided the high point of the Sunday afternoon. I have this memory of the crowd getting in such a frenzy – it was a sunny afternoon at the end of what had been a typically sodden weekend (it poured down during the headline set by Yes on the Saturday night) and a kind of delirium came over the crowd during Trower’s set. At the climax of one of the songs, a great wave of cheering could be heard as a (good-natured) rubbish fight broke out across a no-man’s land puddle of mud in the middle of the crowd. I just remember this cloud of paper and empty bottles suspended in the air, the crowd seemingly spurred on by the excitement of the music.

The BBC recorded them for an In Concert show in early 1975 but then ruined the recording by releasing it on CD in the mid 1990s with fake crowd noise. I have the original, recorded off the radio, and Trower is incredible. It’s an old-fashioned ‘wireless’ recording, from the radio onto a Phillips portable cassette recorder,
complete with Pete Drummond’s between song announcements. I've never heard a better version of Daydream. It’s a must for any fans of the classic era Trower band. The band are at the top of their game, Trower's tone and fluid soloing have rarely been captured so consistently in one show. Apart from the version of Daydream, highlights for me are the new song Gonna Be More Suspicious which really jumps out of the speakers on the BBC version. Lady Love crackles with intensity. Too Rolling Stoned was an instant classic. Here's my recording of Daydream, and I have pasted links to a re-broadcast of the entire show at the foot of this post:

 I saw the RTB again at the Hammersmith Odeon on the tour promoting Long Misty Days. Trower provided a jaw-dropping volume on the title track with its wall-of-guitar intro. Although he has continued to make records to this day, his reputation rests on that golden period in the mid 70s and the trio format with Jimmy Dewar on vocals. Dewar sadly died in 2002. Robin Trower can be seen on the gig circuit, still playing the classic material. In 2005, when I saw him playing at the Mean Fiddler in London, the volume knob was still way up at 11. He began the set with a terrific rendition of Too Rolling Stoned. What amazes me about this clip is that my camera was able to process the sound so well. It really was very loud.   

BBC In Concert Program, January 1975
Day of The Eagle, Bridge of Sighs, Gonna Be More Suspicious

Fine Day, Lady Love, Daydream

Too Rolling Stoned, I Can't Wait Much Longer

Alethea, Little Bit of Sympathy, Rock Me Baby

Reading Festival, 23rd August 1975